No, the prospect of an Uber air taxi development is no longer just a wishful imagination. But, is a real-life cartoon-series Jetson Family-scenario indeed coming into our near future?
The air taxi reality is an emerging model of the transportation system, which seems to be a foreseeable possibility.
What is an air taxi?
The taxis are also known as urban air mobility systems. These are actually a safe and efficient mode of transporting people and cargo within urban areas.
The taxis are feasible for various purposes such as ambulances, firefighters, natural disasters, and armed conflict response.
The vehicles can either be fully electric or hybrid propulsion technologies. However, hybrid propulsion systems with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) technology would benefit greatly as taxis in the air.
VTOL air taxi purpose enables a single point take and landing facility. That can reduce the need for infrastructure developments, unlike conventional airports.
In the case of the air ambulance, a hybrid VTOL reality would enable a fast adoption rate. They have moderate weight and they can fit well into urban
Air Taxi operating cost
According to NASA’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) study, based on the current terms:
In the near future, a 5-seat electric air taxi might cost around USD 6 per passenger mile. That is lower than the existing airfares provided by other operators. These operators include Blade and Skyride (around USD 30 per passenger mile) and Voom (around USD 10).
However, increasing technological developments for high operational efficiency autonomous pilot technology and other technological improvements look promising. The operating cost of taxi air travel should decrease by around 60% in the future.
Indicators that point to air taxi development
Increasing developments in the communication technologies and development of compact and microsensors. This can be manufactured at a low cost, enabled for the development of air taxis.
Development of energy storage technologies, microprocessors, and low power requirements. These factors favor electric air taxis.
Reduced or no noise pollution of electric propulsion in air taxis. Such is the key factor that drives the development of air taxis globally.
Declining battery prices and improved technologies drive enhanced performance. That will enable a higher adoption of air taxis in the long run.
Indicators that interrupt air taxi development
High developmental operating cost is the key factor that hampers the air taxi realization. That trend is expected to continue into the near future.
Adverse weather conditions might considerably affect the operations.
High energy and environmental acceptance for noise might face problems with the acceptance from urban areas.
An increasing number of air taxis operations will affect air traffic management (ATM) in the short to long term. The increasing density of aircraft cannot be met by the existing ATM technologies.
Technical challenges such as high battery cost, longer charging time, and heavy weight of batteries might affect the implementation and performance of air taxis.
The presence of other modes of transportation and development of new generation land-based transport networks, such as autonomous cars and high-speed rail.
Air taxi developmental progress
As of 2018, over 70 manufacturers including Boeing, Airbus, and Bell helicopters are developing air taxis to become a global reality.
More than USD 1 billion has been invested in air taxi systems globally
through 2018. The US is the leading region in the development of air taxis with around 400 approved patents and more than 100 pending patents.
Followed by China and Europe, only China has the utility model concepts of air taxis, with over 150 patents.
Auto manufacturers entering the air taxi development competition
Automotive car manufacturers have increasingly ventured into the air taxi possibility in recent years.
For instance, Daimler along with Lukasz Gadowski has invested around EUR 25 million in Volocopter, for the development of VTOLs.
Toyota is also investing in propulsion and VTOL control systems and has
Geely acquired US start-up Terrafugia in 2017. They realized in 2019 that the flying car technology using plug-in hybrid technology (with 2-seat capacity) will cost around USD 0.28 Million to develop.
The need for passenger capacity increases
Companies are undergoing developments to implement fully autonomous air taxis in order to increase passenger capacity.
Boeing air taxis
For instance, In January 2019, Boeing has successfully completed a test flight of its flying taxi prototype developed by its subsidiary autonomous and electric flying technology company, Aurora Flight Sciences.
The prototype utilizes an electric drivetrain. It has a range of 50 miles. Aurora flight science is also a partner of Uber flying network, Uber Elevate.
Uber air taxi expansion
In August of 2018, Uber stated its plans to launch air taxis in Dallas, Los Angeles, and to another international destination by 2023.
Uber also unveiled its plans to launch air taxis in Japan, India, Australia, Brazil, and France.
Captain Jetson Editor’s Note
There is already a severe lack of pilots qualified to safely fly us from point A to B, by traditional airline transport. It takes years of higher education and experience to qualify to fly just one of these airliners.
Where are Uber and the other operators going to find the huge number of FAA licensed pilots, or “air taxi pilots”, that are going to be needed?
With an already huge shortage of real pilots, how are the air taxi drivers instantly going to get the education, experience, and qualification required to execute the safe flight of these air taxis?
Would you trust a car-driver to be in charge of the airliner jet flying you to Hawaii, now suddenly calling himself a pilot? Or, would you want your grocery store-clerk to play doctor and do the surgery on your rupturing appendix?
Les “Captain Jetson”.